Bihar, the Indian state where Buddha attained enlightenment, where the civilization’s greatest empires sprang from, and which saw the world’s first residential university, delivered a sharp blow to the ruling BJP. The election loss in the heartland state came after a period of intense debate over tolerance and India’s national identity. The fear and intimidation that has permeated India is inaccurately being defined under the broad term “Intolerance” because to presume that the present regime is intolerant is to presuppose that it was tolerant at some time in the past. That is to presuppose that the present incumbent or its previous avatars in various forms were somehow presenting a brighter vision of India. That is simply not true. The preceding versions of Moditva were no different.
Even as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sermonized African heads of state, gathered in New Delhi for the third India-Africa Forum Summit, on the urgent necessity of shaping 21st century by harmonizing the socio-cultural mosaic and economies of the two regions, his own country has been under siege from growing majoritarian radicalism, which has resulted in shrinking liberal space.
From blatant killing of popular literary figure, critical of Hindutva ideology, to continued attacks on Muslims on the pretext of cow protection in different parts of India, Hindu fascists have been allowed to run amok in a nation that claims to be pluralistic; where people of diverse faiths live together in harmony.
Indeed, Modi’s India, today, stands at a tragic crossroads, as the government remains deliberately blind toward divisive and hatred-stoking narratives propagated by Hindutva ideologues, especially the RSS, to whom Modi’s BJP is a political arm, sitting within and outside the administration. “We have fought for our liberty and our dignity. We have struggled for opportunity and also for justice, which, the African wisdom describes, is the prime condition of humanity,” asserted Modi in his address to the African leadership at the summit’s inaugural ceremony. And yet, the same Modi remains indulgent toward his fanatical ideological fellow travellers who are out to terrorize anybody raising his or her voice against majoritarian coercion and violence of Hindu fanatics.
An eminent historian, Romila Thapar, rightly points out: “We are now a society that fears the terror of extremist groups. They are terrorists, their function is to evoke terror and spread fear in various communities by killing and threatening people, while their patrons in mainstream politics protect them.” Worse still, India is being sought to be converted into a Hindu state. This is despite, the same leadership having solemnly guaranteed in pre-election rallies that no religious discrimination would be tolerated once the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is elected with a thumping majority to form the government. And indeed the light of a bright future that Modi promised to all Indians, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, has started flickering within one and half years in the storm of violence and instability, created by none other than his own ideological brethren.
When Hindutva terror snuffs out the life of an innocent Muslim man, the father of an Indian Air Force personnel, merely on the basis of fanned rumours of storing and eating beef, Modi does not feel the bereaved family’s pain as his own. Interestingly, the same Modi, who failed to unambiguously articulate his opposition to the rising tide of intolerance in India, has no qualms in lecturing visiting African dignitaries on the importance of upholding liberty and dignity. Never before in independent India’s history have so many intellectuals mounted such a massive protest collectively against the government’s failure to protect freedom of expression and contain religious intolerance in an effective manner.
Surely, the huge expectations of Modi are coming back to haunt those very people who saw decisive leadership qualities in him before last summer’s general elections. Not that Modi has openly committed any malfeasance while gracing the high post. But, as one of India’s leading filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee — who revolted against government inaction in preventing intolerance, by returning his national award — says that the “euphoria is wearing off now…it is the same old with more fear, paranoia and anger.” But was it not expected?
Is BJP not the same political outfit, which cunningly exploited India’s Hindu middle class’ dormant mistrust for the Muslims in the 1990s through vicious communal agendas? Does Modi’s mentor L.K. Advani realize today that he may have successfully lured a sizable chunk of Indians to feel justified in championing a Hindu identity, bereft of forbearance? India, in the process, was unfortunately turned into a nation where a citizen’s religion finds precedence before anything else, despite the Constitution having no reference to religion as a requirement for citizenship.
Clearly, an influential section of people and lobby groups, both within India and abroad, with vested interests wanted Modi at the helm at all costs. An apprehensive Indian electorate was shrewdly made to believe, through meticulous propaganda, that Modi’s communal and authoritarian attributes would either be tempered by the growth agenda imposed by his powerful backers or by India’s own democratic institutions.
However, BJP’s scale of victory actually resulted in a subtle shift in Indian polity’s secular character. People failed to see through the BJP and its cohorts’ real hardcore agenda — a growth-friendly communalism in the façade of neoliberal reforms.
Modi was handpicked to establish a capitalist system by erasing the legacies of India’s welfare regime. He is supposed to introduce unrestrained privatization, massive deregulation and capital-intensive growth without compromising on Hindu communalism, his core political ideology. As millions of rupees poured in to create a signature blend of majoritarian communalism and business-friendly growth destroys India’s pluralistic fabric bit by bit, that moment has finally arrived for political thinkers and intellectuals to give voice to those oppressed people in India today, suppressed into a dumb anguish of terror. The more educated Indians look the other way when innocent Muslim blood spills, in the hope that Modi will give them growth and prosperity, this nation will remain witness to more bloodletting in the days ahead.
Courtesy: Arab News